‘We’re just following the law’

Each daily dose of news typically contains something heartbreaking or infuriating, but the recent news about the U.S. government separating children from their parents as part of a border-enforcement strategy feels especially excruciating.

When I heard about it on the radio last week, it wasn’t only the thought of these young children in a new country without knowing the language and being ripped away from their parents whose aim was to put them in a safer situation that was so heartbreaking. It was also the words of a government official commenting on the policy.

I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was that these children’s parents were breaking the law and these actions simply enforce that law. That “zero tolerance” means just that. To the U.S. government, it doesn’t matter whether the people seeking asylum are innocents fleeing violent life-threatening conditions and want a safe home for their children or if they are criminals who are trafficking children for personal gain.

This mentality reminds me of Nazi Germany when horrific acts were committed against Jews and other minorities in the name of the “law.” How many more people would have died during the Holocaust if everyone would have followed those laws?

In pre-war Germany, here were some of the laws being enforced (Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum):

In April 1933, Jews and other “politically unreliable” civil servants and employees are excluded from state service. German law restricts the number of Jewish students at German students and universities. Legislation sharply curtails “Jewish activity” in the medical and legal professions. The City of Berlin forbids Jewish lawyers and notaries to work on legal matters, the mayor of Munich disallows Jewish doctors from treating non-Jewish patients and the Bavarian Interior Ministry denies admission of Jewish students to medical school.

On a national level, the Nazi government revokes the license of Jewish tax consultants, fires Jewish civilian workers from the army and forbids Jewish actors to perform on the stage or screen.

In 1935, The Nuremberg Laws exclude German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibit them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood.”

By 1938, the year of the pogrom called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), Jews were barred from public schools and universities, cinemas, theaters and sports facilities.

Next came interrogation, terror campaigns and physical attacks. I’m sure you’re familiar with the rest of the story.

Our country’s history includes slavery laws, legal segregation and internment camps so the U.S. is obviously not immune to bad choices. I understand that the country needs to change its immigration policy but is it necessary to break up asylum-seeking families fleeing dangerous conditions? Isn’t there a better solution?

A friend recently told me about someone she knew who once dealt drugs illegally and today runs a successful marijuana business. His actions didn’t change, but what would have once earned him jail time is now earning him a lucrative legal living. Flash back to the 1920s during the America’s Prohibition period when there was a similar story with alcoholic beverages and you have another example of an act having different consequences depending on the year it occurs.

Indiscriminately separating children from their parents the way that is being done at the border is always wrong and inhumane. Blindly following laws without thought of whether they are morally right is chilling.

One comment

  1. The parallel is chilling. Just as a side note, as Jews were barred from law, medicine, and acting, we are now known for excelling in all three fields. Maybe the Germans didn’t like being shown up.


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